Health Officials Warn of Mysterious, Potentially Deadly Fungal Infection in Illinois

A potentially deadly, multidrug-resistant fungus is spreading in Illinois and health experts are warning residents to "take precautions."

The Candida auris fungus affects mostly people with multiple underlying conditions.

Illinois health officials recently reported 154 confirmed cases -- second only to New York, according to the Chicago Tribune. Of those Illinois cases, 95 are in Chicago, 63 in the suburbs and three downstate. As of February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 144 confirmed cases and four probable cases. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health said it has responded to more than 100 healthcare facilities to "actively investigate every clinical case to identify any possible exposures." 

"Our top priority at IDPH is keeping Illinoisans healthy and safe and we are working hard to ensure residents have the information and resources they need in response to all emerging health threats," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. "Fungal infections caused by C. auris, and similar infections, have the potential to cause serious illness, are often resistant to standard medications, and continue to spread in health care settings."

The disease came to Illinois in 2016 after it was discovered in Japan in 2009, according to the Chicago Tribune. The CDC notes that more than one in three patients with an invasive infection, such as one that affects the blood, heart or brain, die. 

Dr. Max Brito, an associate profesor of infections disease at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, said the fungus is "a concern for people with a chronic disease or a weakened immune system." 

“It’s a combination of factors that makes you more prone to get a bug like this,” Brito told the Tribune. 

Symptoms for the fungus may not differ from those of other infections and can vary depending on which part of the body becomes infected, IDPH warned. Some can even have the fungus on their body without developing an infection or any symptoms, though it is still possible for those poeople to pass it on to others. 

The fungus can be highly resistant to antifungal drugs, meaning that medications used to treat it often do not work, IDPH said, noting that cases in Illinois so far "have been treatable." 

Officials warn people who visit health facilities to clean their hands with soap after coming in contact with a patient or any medical devices. They urged anyone receiving medical treatment to take the following precautions: 

• When a doctor, nurse, or other health care worker enters the room, observe as they clean their hands.

• Patients and loved ones should make sure their hands are clean as well.

• Patients should feel comfortable inquiring if medical equipment was cleaned after being used on another patient (e.g. stethoscope or blood pressure cuff).

• Check if the room and surfaces have been cleaned with the appropriate disinfectant

• Ask what steps the facility is taking to reduce the transmission of healthcare-associated infections.

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